Sheree Martin Law is a 21st Century Law Firm
for visionaries who are creating their future and the type of world in which they want to live.
It might be helpful if I explain the concept of a 21st century law firm and how my approach to law practice is different.
Basically, a 21st century law firm (as I define it), is one that leverages technology to engage with clients and to deliver legal services and is willing to let go of old ways of structuring and operating a law practice.
A 21st century lawyer has the same duty and commitment to ethical and zealous representation of clients. The professional responsibilities are the same.
Rather than offer a step-by-step presentation of my process in designing my firm, I’ll be publishing a blog post about that soon. For now, here are the components of how I’ll deliver legal and strategic communication services to clients.
21st Century Technology
Rather than making the in-person meeting the default normal, my approach is to start with a telephone call or virtual “video” conference using one of several internet-based video conferencing technologies.
Face-to-face meetings are always an option for clients, just not the assumed default.
For initial conversations before we get to the attorney-client stage, the default will be telephone, Skype, or other private online meeting technology.
In-person meetings are possible before an attorney-client relationship exists, but subject to preliminary conflicts checks and some other limitations that will be explained in initial communications.
Once we’ve established an attorney-client relationship with a written and signed engagement agreement, I will communicate with clients using the level of technology the client wants to use.
Some clients may prefer face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations, email and formal letters mailed through the USPS.
Other clients may prefer to use Slack or one of several other secure digital project communication solutions available. Options include encrypted, internet-based meeting technology when that is necessary.
Limited Use of Paper
Thanks to the scanner and digital technology, it’s rarely necessary to keep physical copies of paper documents. To the extent paper is needed, I will create the paper document, deliver the original to the client, scan a copy and store it securely as a digital file.
Details about how digital file storage and access works will be provided to clients.
Digital file sharing is more efficient and reduces overhead costs traditionally incurred to manage, file, store and retrieve paper.
Since paper storage is no longer an issue in a 21st century law firm, lawyers no longer need to pay for off-premises physical storage and no longer need to dedicate much office space for storing paper of any type.
Another benefit is that digital files can be shared securely with clients through portals or other secure cloud storage and document sharing services. That reduces the need for support staff to pull a file, make a paper copy, and mail it or deliver it to a client.
No Physical Office for Drop In Appointments
Traditional law firms have a physical office where clients come to meet with their legal team in person, to sign documents, and pick up or deliver paper documents. Sometimes these offices are in high-rise buildings, sometimes they are stand-alone office buildings, sometimes they’re in historic homes, sometimes they’re on Main Street or in shopping centers.
At the present time, I do not have a physical office where clients can stop by, without an appointment.
When a face-to-face meeting is warranted, I can schedule meetings at client offices or meet at a variety of locations, from public spaces suitable for private conversations to private conference or office space rented on an hourly or daily basis.
When a client doesn’t have a physical office or a more private physical conference space is needed, I can arrange for a private office or conference room in several cities across Alabama, including Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Florence and I’m working to identify possibilities in several other cities.
Thanks to new business models, short-term conferencing options are available for partial or full-day meetings in most of the larger cities and towns in Alabama.
Depending on how my law practice evolves and the specific needs of clients, I might enter into an arrangement that would allow me to spent a couple of days each month in a physical office in select cities. That’s an option I’m exploring.
Practice Management & Operations
Alternatives to Hourly Billing
A 21st century law firm is not beholden to the hourly rate as the be-all-and-end-all for calculating a fee arrangement.
Although I do not offer free consultations or give free legal advice, I am open to fixed fee arrangements for many of the types of matters I handle.
I am also working to develop a monthly subscription-based model for a limited number of clients who need a smörgåsbord of business-related legal services on an on-going basis.
I am open to an hourly fee structure, if that’s what the client wants or needs for regulatory reasons.
I do not anticipate taking matters on a contingency fee, given the nature of my practice areas, but I do not rule out contingency fee arrangements entirely.
Rather than hiring one or two employees to serve in a variety of administrative support roles, I’ll be using the virtual team-based approach that’s common in tech startups.
Technology eliminates the need for much of the traditional typing, filing and scheduling tasks performed by a legal assistant or other law firm support staff. General “virtual” administrative support options abound and are available when I need them.
Depending on the nature of a client’s legal matter, I may use project-based legal assistants when necessary to assist with document creation, management and review.
A major transaction that involves due diligence review/compliance or matters involving regulatory compliance are two examples of where a legal assistant might be hired on a project-basis.
Legal assistants in virtual law context are subject to the same confidentiality requirements as are legal assistants who are traditional employees of a traditional law firm.
Lower overhead is one benefit of project-based staffing.
Another benefit of project-based staffing that might not be obvious is that I can bring in a temporary legal assistant with specific experience in defined areas, depending on the nature of the project.
In addition to providing legal services, I’ll be providing ancillary business services to law firm clients (and to non-law clients, subject to rules governing conflicts of interest and other requirements of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct).
These ancillary services fall within the broad category of strategic communication. They range from strategic communication planning and public advocacy to consulting and content creation for inbound content marketing.
I hope this page provides a good overview of some of the main differences between a traditional law firm and a 21st century law firm.
To the extent that questions exist, I’m happy to address them in preliminary discussions, within the terms of the engagement letter, or with clients at any time.